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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Ducking the decision day

Those of you who are longtime readers know that while I have had my disagreements with JPost editor-in-chief David Horovitz (who moderated the AACI debate on Saturday night, despite being English), I believe he is one of the most - if not the most - eloquent writers in Israel's English-language media. On Friday, he hit a homerun in defining everything that's wrong about Israel's electoral system - a system that was defended this evening by some of the large-party representatives at the AACI event.
Even would-be friends of Israel don't know which vision of the country they should be defending. How can they know, when we won't make up our own minds?

The elections are still more than a week away, but I can tell you already who lost. Israel did.


In every conceivable forum - every media panel, every conference, every diplomatic gathering - representatives of Israel speak in a jarring discord of patriotic voices. Israel should retake Gaza; no, it must open the borders to Gaza and negotiate with Hamas. There can be no compromise on Jerusalem; no, we must relinquish the Palestinian neighborhoods of our capital city. Israel must retain all of Judea and Samaria, and hang the consequences in terms of our own democracy and international support; no, it must return to the pre '67 lines, stay Jewish, take security risks; no again, we must find a new middle ground short of the "Auschwitz borders."

Is an international political "friend of Israel" someone who pushes for the kind of accord advocated by our departing prime minister - someone, that is, like France's President Nicolas Sarkozy, who passionately tells us that "the future of Israel is at stake" and that we must show trust and take risks for peace? Or does that stance render Sarkozy a liability to our true cause? Is the Obama administration's likely maintenance of long-standing American opposition to the settlement enterprise proof of its flaws, or evidence that it has accurately judged where our best interests lie? Are the Greater Israel Christian Evangelists our worst nightmare or our best true friends?

There is no consensual Israeli answer to these questions. Our diplomats and advocates are thus left promoting a product whose most basic dimensions they cannot decisively describe. Our friends cannot know which Israel they ought to be supporting; we haven't told them.

Contrast that with the Palestinians. They speak with just two voices. What we want, the Abbas-led PA and its supporters chorus in unison, is a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem and a just solution to the problem of the refugees. What we want, counters Hamas, is the elimination of Israel, albeit with the possibility of an interim accommodation along the '67 lines. Duplicitous or not, it's a clear agenda, offering a clear choice to both the Palestinians themselves and would-be peacemakers.

What, meanwhile, does Israel want? For the 41-and-a-half years since the Six Day War, we have insistently not made our minds up, even as facts shifted inexorably on the ground. For much of that time we deluded ourselves that Arab intransigence to any notion of compromise rendered such a decision irrelevant. Our heads are in the sand even as it shifts.

Of course, all other democracies strive to reconcile internal divides, but only in ours have the arguments, decade after decade, failed to produce a workable consensus as to the very contours of our nation.

A week-and-a-half from now, across these unresolved fundamental divides, we will be unhappily casting our uncertain ballots for representatives who, on the whole, have managed to avoid setting out their own red lines and telling us their own specific conception of Israel - representatives who, in some cases, aspire to lead us without even having made those conceptual choices themselves. The blind led by the evasive.

What does Israel seek for itself? The day of fateful choice is upon us again. Watch us duck it.
Read the whole thing.

The key is that little part I highlighted (and he expands on it elsewhere). It's what Mrs. Carl had in mind when she said she was disappointed with Benny Begin because he says the right things, but we know that his party says the opposite. Sorry Benny, but "vote for a big party," just isn't good enough and is really beneath you.

Time and again, we Israelis have had candidates and parties say one thing during the elections and do the exact opposite once in office (usually with the excuse that 'what you see from here you don't see from there'). The classic case is Yitzchak Rabin.
Just hours before the election, Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin told a Golan audience: "As for the future, it is inconceivable that even in peacetime we should go down from the Golan. Whoever even thinks of leaving the Golan wantonly abandons the security of Israel." (Emphasis added.)

Once ensconced in power, however, the Rabin government proceeded to ignore Jewish public opinion on this crucial issue.
In the mid-90's those words were played over and over again on the radio here. And yet, it happens again and again. And not just on issues like welfare payments or health insurance, but on issues that go to this country's very existence. I am constantly having my eyes opened to parties' true stances.

In the long run, the only true solution is to have a proportional representation system that allows the voters to punish the liars and cheats. But don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. There are too many vested interests - most notably the big parties - who will prevent it from happening.


At 4:01 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - Israel has a pure proportional representation system.

I think what you mean is a constituency system like that for the U.S House Of Representatives or the British Parliament. One in which MKs are elected by voters directly and accountable to them. Under the current electoral system, they are accountable to no one.

And that's why Israel's government
can ignore Jewish public opinion with impunity and MKs have no real means of resisting policies they know will harm the country since they have no independent power base with their constituents. Unfortunately, the party bosses that benefit the most from the present system have no real incentive to change it.

At 4:37 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

While the US system of representation by district does improve accountability, many of our elected officials manage to dodge and weave, too.

At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone in a "big party" wants to change Israel's system of government representation:


Carl, you will be stuck with the big parties and no change ad infinitum and ad nauseum until you find a way to kick the trash out the back door.

Katzeleh no Eldad are in a position to do it.

Round and round we go.

At 8:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The link I posted was:

Manhigut Yehudit - Society: Israel must adopt loyalty as its national code.


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